Stroll ready for his walk-on part as Albert Park rookie

Born on the eve of fellow-Canadian Jacques Villeneuve’s final race with Williams in October 1998, Lance Stroll walks into Albert Park this week as the former world champion’s heir apparent and the second youngest man to race in Formula One after last year’s ‘breakthrough star’ Max Verstappen.

At 18 years and five months old, he is one of only three ‘Melbourne rookies’ in the field for Sunday’s season-opening Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix and the only true rookie in this year’s championship.

Both Force India’s 20-year-old Frenchman Esteban Ocon, with nine races under his belt, and Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren Honda’s young Belgian who turns 25 on race day, with just one previous outing, have been through the initiation process elsewhere.

That his rich businessman father Lawrence Stroll has smoothed his passage to the Williams team – as team-mate to veteran ‘back from retirement’ Brazilian Felipe Massa -- with solid funding has only added to the levels of anticipation and interest that swirl around him.

But if ever a driver was prepared for what lies ahead, it is Stroll.

Since his mother Claire-Ann gave birth to him in Montreal on October 29, 1998, just a day before Villeneuve began practice for the Japanese Grand Prix, it has seemed to be his destiny.

Gifted a go-kart by his billionaire retail magnate father, when he was five, he was a champion three years later and joined Ferrari’s driver academy in 2010.

He stepped up to race in single-seaters in 2014, in the Florida Winter Series, before winning the Italian Formula 4 title at the first attempt. He soon added another in New Zealand’s Toyota Racing Series and then finished fifth, albeit after a few heavy crashes, in the European F3 championship.

The following year, 2016, having been hired by Williams as a development driver, he proved he was a quick learner by claiming the F3 title with 14 wins.

Williams, to some raised eyebrows, quickly appointed him to their 2017 F1 race team – expecting him to partner the talented Valtteri Bottas, but the Finn’s move to replace retired world champion Nico Rosberg at Mercedes meant a rapid recall from the beach for Massa, who will be 36 in April.

As a result, Stroll has a team-mate who is twice his age and will debut during one of the Williams team’s frequent transitional moments as Paddy Lowe joins from Mercedes to replace Pat Symonds as technical director.

In all this change, Stroll has listened and worked in both the garage and the gym, honing his physique to cope with the higher corner speeds and his mind to absorb as much as possible of Massa’s vast repertoire of experience.

His crashes in pre-season testing were part of that process as he made progress towards this week’s maiden race outing in Melbourne where Ocon, highly-rated after his spell with Manor, and Vandoorne, who impressed in his single outing with McLaren last year, will share the novelty. 

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